It wasn’t until the early 1500′s that the world’s second most expensive spice was introduced to Europe. History credits Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés with the distinction of bringing it from the Mesoamerican world. Like those before him, he too stole it as part of his conquests.
He took it from the Aztec’s but they weren’t the first to cultivate it either. The Aztec’s stole it from their neighbors, the Totonac. The Totonac were a thriving populace that bought Aztec’s as slaves during the Mexican famine of 1450-1454. The Aztec’s, not happy with having to sell themselves to a smaller populace of people exercised their military superiority and subjugated the Totonac’s. In return for their relative freedom, the Totonac’s were allowed to pay tribute by sending vanilla beans to the Aztec’s capital city. Shortly after that, the Aztec’s began growing vanilla too, and the rest is, as they say. . . history.
Vanilla beans are actually the fruit of the vanilla orchid. From those beautiful and delicate flowers come an equally delicate and memorable fruit. After the flowers are pollinated by hand, the beans (or pods) take 10 months to mature and are grown under very labor intensive conditions. Today, there are four primary types of vanilla grown in the world; Bourbon, Mexican, Tahitian and West Indian. All four have their origin in those vanilla orchids tended to and harvested by the Totonac’s.
If you’ve ever bought good quality vanilla beans before, you know how expensive (and how worth it) they can be! Much of the price difference between the four types can be directly attributed to how the beans are processed. Curing, sweating, drying and conditioning the beans accounts for the bulk of the difference in quality as the four types of vanilla beans are genetically similar enough to produce nearly identical results if grown and processed in the same region and in the same way.
On the other hand artificial vanilla has been the bane of humanity’s existence. There are two types of artificial vanilla – one comes as a by-product of the paper-making process (lignin) and is extracted from the pulp using sulfites or sulfates. You will typically see it included as ‘vanillin’ in the ingredients list.
The other comes from the castor sacs (scent sacs) of beavers (usually called castoreum). Those sacs are located in the pelvic region like almost all other mammalian scent sacs. It’s typically identified as ‘natural flavoring’ in the ingredients list. Personally, we just can’t accept the image of a lifted beaver’s tail over our ice cream bowl, spraying from his scent gland to provide the vanilla flavor as ‘natural’.
Given the origins of artificial vanilla, the former choice (lignin) is unappealing and unhealthy. The latter (castoreum) is just plain disgusting. And so, in our never-ending quest for premium food products we present another in our line of sugar·licious™ raw organic flavored cane sugars – Vanilla Bean.
Raw, organic, fair-trade cane sugar blended with some of the finest vanilla beans available produces a vanilla sugar without parallel. Come sample it for yourself! It’s available at our farmer’s markets and online. Much like the finest beans available, it is rich, full-bodied and flavorful. Like most of our other sugars, its use is limited only by your imagination!
Raw, organic cane sugar is a great (and healthy) substitute for regular sugars because it is relatively low on the glycemic scale (approximately 35-40). Compare that to white and brown sugar (approximately 65), or high fructose corn syrup (approximately 62), or even black strap molasses (approximately 55).
Best of all, unlike the Totonac and Aztec’s, you won’t have to steal it or pay it as tribute to anyone else, you can keep it all to yourself!